Two Accounts of Conflict: Iraq & Mexico

Sarah Buttle

Two Accounts of Conflict: Iraq & Mexico

The success of a book covering a major conflict or war is a task that acquires great skill, patience and balance. It is best written by those who have lived amongst the civilians for enough time to learn about the regions socio-economic, cultural and religious demography it inhabits.

This post has been structured and written solely, bar my included extra readings, on the content of ‘The Occupation’ and ‘The Lawless Roads’, showing the level of skill both Graham Greene and Patrick Cockburn have in being able to comprehend both accounts of conflict and war, so that the everyday person can understand and be more informed.

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To compare two separate accounts of conflict we must be mindful, as I have come to learn through reading both books, of the geographical positioning of both areas. In reading ‘The Occupation’ written by Patrick Cockburn and ‘The Lawless Roads’ written by Graham Greene, I have attained much knowledge on the conflicts which our mainstream world media has failed to previously inform me upon.

Both authors accounts of conflict succeed in comprehending what may have seemed an impossible mission, just as most conflicts and wars are. Conflict reporters and writers are democracies diminishing crucial weapon in our wars, and both Cockburn and Greene are certainly at the forefront of investigative journalism.

I quickly become aware and quite overwhelmed by how many socio-economic, cultural and religious conflicts these areas of conflict hold in both books, and what became evident as I read in particular, ‘The Occupation’, was I wasn’t the only one who was unaware. This has resulted in world crises of politically broken, segmented, impoverished, unstable communities, with emphasis on Iraq.

This is affecting large regions; much of which is fuelled or antagonised by western politics and economic/ geographical power, global institutional interference, post communism dictatorships, clashing religious ideological values and religious denominations (Cockburn, 2014) (Marshall, 2016).

The Occupation; War and Resistance in Iraq:

Written by Patrick Cockburn

Critically acclaimed war reporter and journalist, native of the rebel county on the emerald Isle, Patrick Oliver Cockburn has been both blessed and cursed by reporting the on-going conflicts in the Middle East. In his book ‘The Occupation; War and Resistance in Iraq’, Cockburn requires and shares what can be said to be a highly comprehendible and unbiased realistic view and account of the Iraq War (Cockburn, 2006).

Having previously won the Foreign Commentator of the year in 2013, the Foreign Affairs journalist of the Year in 2014 and finally, after committing over a decade to being at the front line of uncertainty and terror, Cockburn won Foreign Reporter of the Year in 2014. Although born into an educated family who were able to send him to Trinity College Dublin, what he shares in this book is something that you cannot prepare for through academics.

Much international media reported on the Iraq war without ever gaining an understanding of why the Iraq continued after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. For a short time, many Iraqis supported the invasion or stayed neutral to the USA occupying Iraq. They were desperate to end the state of war in which they had been living under since 1980. This left an unstable segmented Iraq behind, fuelled with hatred for one another and hatred for the American troops who were seen to be ‘invading’ their lands as the colonial powers did once before in the south (Cockburn, 2006).

“In the debate abroad about how far the conflict in Iraq had graduated to being a civil war, I felt that non-Iraqis seldom realized the anarchy, the state of utter lawlessness in which Iraqis were force to live in Baghdad and much of the country”, Cockburn best describing this ignorance with a couple of lines. Much of his book focuses on the failings of the occupation in creating a peaceful democratic Iraq, underneath the Bush administration this backfired and unlike the war in Afghanistan, the occupation instead drove Iraq into a civil war.

On paper the Iraqis saw the Americans, or as I will now refer to them as the occupation, as another power-head trying to control its land and people. Having emerged and battled through colonial invasion, and surviving the presidency of Suddam Hussein from 16 July 1979 until 9 April 2003, Cockburn has constructed a compelling and complex portrait of post-Suddam Iraq, using vivid descriptions of trauma and turmoil which he has seen first- hand throughout his time in this Islamic state. The turmoil he witnessed from the southern regions of Kuwait, to Baghdad and right up north to Kirkuk, has the same creator; the occupation and the imperial arrogance of the Bush administration and not forgetting Tony Blair’s influence along with the UN.

What I loved most about this account of war and conflict, Cockburn’s entire travels are with those ordinary Iraqis, with whom he made great friends and greater foes. By taking this route it enabled him to get close and personal with the real horrors for those living in conflict zones. Westerns reporting on the war in Iraq, who are sent to represent the US, UK and other United Nation States, rarely ever entered Bagdad during the war or other conflict areas, nor did they venture past the Green zone, if so they would call upon a secure entourage, bomb- searching the agreed route to mark safe for travel. Journalists or anybody seen to be an invader or ally of colonial or western ideologies were killed. Iraq, especially Baghdad, was no longer a safe place for a western or Iraqi. State Officials, politicians and diplomats were rarely seen, all comprehend by Cockburn throughout his account.

Cockburn’s experience venturing somewhat safely in the late 20th century with his camera, when Iraq was still underneath the rule of Suddam, and now fast forward to his travels post- Saddam Hussein, was evidence enough that it was all a placate. He would never even consider having this camera or any journalistic quality noticeable towards the end of his time in Iraq. Throughout, he countlessly suggests how ignorant it was for Washington to think that the Kurds, the Shia and the Sunni would all unite to form a democratic state.

Evidence for this stems from the infamous sovereignty of 2004 and then the 2005 election, which for Cockburn, was the cherry on top in terms of more false, idealised propagandist content. Its only purpose; showing the Americans that their tax money and the death toll of their sons and fathers were accounted for and for just-cause. He covers the entire election in Iraq to an exceptional level of understanding, and it became quite painful to read, as the struggles prevailed, with no answers coming from Iraqis or foreign leaders.

This was far from the reality as Washington knew, so this election gave the impression that progress was being made in stabilising Iraq, while the real death tolls of Iraqis, car bombings, suicide bombings, mosque burnings, kidnapping and loitering and the increase number of guerrilla war outbreaks were all of course confined and controlled, as many US officials were completely ignorant to the civil war beginning right beneath their well-polished noses. For the civilians of Iraq, they consequently made up the majority of casualties, with the rest being foreign news reporters and the US military.

Cockburn notes how the bombings of 1991 on Iraq power stations, oil refineries and other important infrastructure have had the largest detrimental effect on the appalling standard of living for Iraqis. I feel Cockburn has something very unique, that is he has witnessed both the initial war of Iraq and the aftermath which has had astounding knock-on effects in boarding countries such as Turkey, Iran and Syria with the rise of terrorist organisations. The ideologies of these terrorist’s groups all unite with the same hatred for the occupation, America.

The Lawless Roads:

Written by Graham Greene

To compare an account of war and conflict to the war in Iraq would be hard to compare and comprehend. In saying that, there is however another account of war and conflict during the middle of the 20th century Latin America which shared a similar feature to the war in Iraq; the occupation and influence of the USA and political ideologies and interference in religion practices. This was the religious conflict in Mexico, a federal republican country in the southern part of North America.

In 1918, English writer and journalist Graham Greene, was commissioned to visit Mexico to discover the state of the country in the aftermath of the brutal anti-clerical purges of President Calles (Mabry, 1978). Through his book which he named ‘The Lawless Roads’, he endures a self-discovery journey, which may be the only criticism I may have, with his informative account of war and conflict in Mexico, (Greene, 2006).

Although some foreign places, names and phrases are commonly used, it can be hard at times to comprehend everything on each page, but Greene redeems himself endlessly with in-depth accounts of emotive descriptions of his self-perseverance through his uneasy travels of Mexico and descriptions of his underlying rage and hatred. I must mention that as I neared the end of ‘The Lawless Roads’, I felt a sense of fulfilment from Greene, as he had endured and persevered painstakingly through this journey for both work, research and I am sure, personal reasons, as he too was a roman catholic.

It was noted that when he returned to England, Greene found regular mass without fearing punishment, quite unreal and strange, in comparison to Chiapas and Tabasco, where mass was still said in private. It was these two states which drove the commissioned Greene to Mexico, to understand why the priests were being persecuted here in 1938, when after all, Mexico was and is a catholic dominating country.

We also know that it’s a secular country, and since the mid-19th century all religions were allowed to practice openly and freely without discrimination. The Roman Catholic Church is the oldest established church in Mexico, established in the early sixteenth century and still is as popular today, although at a large expense, through perseverance of conflicting powers and its feared followers at the same time as WWII. The breakdown of religion denominations in Mexico as per 2010 were as it stands: Roman Catholic 82.7%, Pentecostal 1.6%, Jehovah’s Witness 1.4%, other Evangelical Churches 5%, other 1.9%, none 4.7%, unspecified 2.7% (Cia.gov.,2010). Professor of History and Center for International Security Donald J. Mabry explains why, like the Iraq conflict in the Middle East, the conflict between the revolutionary Mexican state and Catholics during the 1920s came to international attention.

Both Mexico and Iraq were watched by journalists and scholars alike. Countries like the Soviet Union, Mexico, France, and the United States all watched this conflict in Mexico, commissioning brave journalists to brave the lawless roads of Mexico to uncover the aftermath of the brutal anti-clerical purges of President Calles, as Graham Greene did with much success.

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Sarah Buttle

Mental Health Youth Advisers for the Milestone Study